Music is something I need like air. It feeds my soul. I was never without a book and some kind of portable music player (Walkman, Discman, and once I could afford it, the original iPod shuffle). I developed some mad mix-tape skills. Even through college, I struggled to fall asleep without something playing in the background, something that drove my roommate nuts. Well, nuttier. I used music to create a soundtrack to my life, to orchestrate my moods and to manipulate emotions. I learned to do it so well, I had my own little “therapy” sessions with one friend conducted through the intense power of music. With history like that, it’s not surprising that music is a part of my writing process. Sometimes, it’s the inspiration for an idea, sometimes it’s fuel for creativity while working, but most often, it’s both.
Everyone’s process is different, of course, but what I’ve discovered works for me lately is keeping a playlist of songs for each story I’m working on. Sometimes, I slap it together quickly with the story dictating exactly what it needs, and other times it’s as much a work in progress as the story it’s attached to.
But why is this a valuable use of my time?
- Inspiration: Songs come to me for a reason. Either it’s the tone or mood of the song, the lyrics, or something about the story the song tells. When I’m not sure where the story needs to go, these songs tap into the lizard brain and help me pull forth that core of the story that might be hard to express in rational thought. Music helps the words flow.
- Continuity: I write slow and I write in bursts because life. Keeping a playlist is a way of preserving a headspace for the story. I listen to it even while doing other tasks (working, shopping, driving, laundry) because it keeps the creative world churning and fresh. It helps me prime my creativity so that when ass meets chair, words happen efficiently.
- Focus: I suck at focus almost as much as I suck at discipline. The meme about having 2,857 browser tabs open in my brain is a pretty accurate description. Add to it, though that they alternately demand attention by playing some kind of audio that makes me click over to them. It adds up to getting next to nothing done in one sitting. For me, music distracts the noisy parts of my brain. Song lyrics give the chatty, interrupt-y part of my brain something to gnaw on while the rest of me can work on writing and creating worlds with words.
- Portability: I don’t always write at home, and I don’t always write on my computer or laptop. Having a palylist of songs, especially a private playlist saved on the internet somewhere means that even if I don’t have the physical elements that tell my brain it’s time to write, I can use the auditory clues of a playlist to make the shift. (Behavioral psychology FTW, yo.)
- Enjoyment: My musical memory associations are as strong as scent associations. Maybe stronger. I have music that reminds me of people, of events. I have bought albums not because the music is particularly good, but because it connects me to someone or some time. The summer I painted my bedroom walls a beautiful shade of red, “Inside Out” by Eve6 was my jam and I danced almost as much as I painted. The Moody Blues make me think about my dad. There are about 4 albums that define my college experience, and one that introduced me to a part of myself I never knew existed. After writing the story, those songs are the soundtrack to that story, and it makes me smile. And I want to share that with you.
Recently, in response to the heinous HB2 legislation in North Carolina, Falstaff Books published We Are Not This: Carolina Writers for Equality, a charity anthology benefiting Time Out Youth, Equality NC and the Queen City Theater Company. My story “Trapped” is included, and I want to share the playlist for that story with you. I have engineered the list a bit to make it flow. I cut a few songs (because they didn’t have a logical place in the playlist and because I recognize that most people can only handle so much Amanda Palmer/The Dresden Dolls.)
So, talk a walk through the weirdness of my brain. Download We Are Not This and read “Trapped.” Use this as a soundtrack as you listen, or just a companion piece to enjoy:
And, if you’re interested in seeing a sliver of what I cut, here are a few bonus tracks I just couldn’t let go:
Let me know what you think!